Thursday, May 10, 2012

Melinda Drives The Zero Car At Targa Tasmania 2012

Article by Melinda - our QLD trainer!


The Mazda Australia Targa Tasmania 2012 rally team (I’m the one in blue on the right hand side)

The Targa Tasmania is a tarmac-based rally event held on closed public roads throughout Tasmania.  It is an internationally renowned classic motor sport event that involves over 250 vehicles and 500+ racing kilometres.  To use a teenage turn of phrase, it’s EPIC!

Nine time Targa Tasmania winner Jim Richards once said something like: “Targa Tasmania: 5 days of racing.  On the sixth day, you’re glad it’s over.  On the seventh day, you’re planning for next year”.  And this is exactly how my passion for the event feels.

I have navigated (or “codriven”) twice and driven various rally cars 6 times.  As a competitor, you line up with incredible supercars such as Ferraris, Maserartis and Lamborghinis.  I also had the honour of racing against legends like Peter Brock, Walter Roehrl, Simon Evans and Dick Johnson.  Sure, they’re in different classes and categories, but it’s such a thrill to be in the mix with them.

Unfortunately, there is the small matter of cost.  Bringing a rally car, support crew and vehicle from Queensland – plus the sheer size of the event - means that my costs are the equivalent to the average wedding.  This led me to find a second job, in the form of teaching “Get to Know Your Car” Galmatic workshops for women (www.galmatic.com.au).  But that is another story for another blog!

This year I was thrilled to be asked by Mazda Australia to drive their brand new CX-5 as “Zero Car” in the Targa Tasmania.

Mazda Australia team
As the Mazda Zero Car driver, I was a part of the Mazda Australia team that entered 4 additional cars into the competitive component of Targa Tasmania.  Mazda entered 2 very hot RX8 SPs, one super Mazda 3 MPS and a cute Mazda 2 MPS.  The team also included 4 time Australian Rally Champions Simon and Sue Evans and Australia's top young World Rally Championship rally team Brendan Reeves and Rhiannon Smyth.  It was brilliant being a part of such an experienced factory rally outfit.


What is the Zero Car?
Prior to the Zero Car entering the stage, there are so many logistical aspects implemented to ensure the road is safely closed to the public and ready to rally on.  There are volunteer officials and police officers that block side street access the road and “start” and “finish” control stations to time the rally cars as they race over the stage, 30 seconds apart.

To quote Wikipedia, a Zero Car is “a car used in rallying to open the road for the competing cars”.  Our role had two main purposes: 1. to warn the public that the first competitive car is coming; and 2. checking the stage is a standard for competitors to rally on.  To warn spectators and the public, our CX-5 Zero Car had sirens and lights blazing as we zoom-zoomed (pardon the obvious product pun) through the stages. 

We likened the experience to a police chase among spectacular scenery, but without the crims!  We officially signed off on more than 40 rally stages over 5 days as “condition green”, the official classification that the stage is “safe for competitors” or “ready to rumble”.


The fantastic Mazda CX-5 at the start of the longest stage of the Targa Tasmania – Mount Arrowsmith (57 kilometres).


Our ride – the Mazda CX-5
Our ride was the brand new Mazda CX-5, which feels as big as an SUV inside but was surprisingly nimble to drive around the roads of Tasmania.  It had all the goodies – gorgeous leather interior, yummy seat warmers (perfect for Tassie weather), push button start (to make you feel like you’re in a Bond movie), sun roof (for added glamour) and a touch screen with navigational aids and iPod connectivity.  We also had the turbo diesel model with the new SkyActiv technology – meaning a light and fuel efficient engine - which delivered smooth power whenever I asked for it.

The Targa Tasmania competition lasted over 5 days, with over 40 stages and over 500 kilometres of rallying.  We were at the start of the competitive field for every stage.  This meant very early starts, long days (read: lots of under-eye concealer) and helmet-hair (read: lots of product to mitigate the effects of a helmet that smushes hair FLAT).

The head of Mazda Australia Motorsport said to me after the 2,000 kilometre event – “not many cars would take the beating you gave it”, and he was right.  I definitely – and without endorsement fee! – recommend the Mazda CX-5 as a beautiful daily driver.